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Changes for Cat People?

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Chris Packham Chris Packham | 19:34 UK time, Thursday, 7 June 2012

Let me say, first and foremost. I'm not 'anti-cat' - what nature lover couldn't admire these supreme little hunters. I don't want to see any harm come to any cats or stop people enjoying them.

We knew we wanted to look into this issue on Springwatch this year. We didn't expect to see a cat take a nest of wood warblers on our live webcams.

But that's the reality. Right there, in front of our eyes.

We've had many comments about it, some highly considered, some less so. There's nothing helpful about calling for 'cat-culls', but 'cat curfews'... now there's an idea we recommend (and not a new one).

Our gardens have become vital for wildlife, and we need to find ways to make keeping cats and feeding birds compatible. Conservative and current estimates put the number of songbirds killed by cats in the UK each year to be 55 million.

There are two questions - what's the real effect of cats on our birds and what can we do about it?

The science needs to be brought up to date. Tonight on Springwatch, we feature the launch of research at Reading University who are taking a new approach to that first question. Cat-cams hope to track exactly what our cats are up to at night. (Previous research is usually based on the number of animals which cats bring back home, and a presumption of what percentage of their kills this number represents.)

Some say that if cats didn't kill all those songbirds, something else would. Well let's reduce cat kills and see if that happens. Personally, I'd rather a sparrowhawk got a meal than an already well-fed cat.

So what can we do it?

  • Keeping cats indoors at night cuts predation in half.
  • Fitting a new style beeper collar also cuts bird predation by 45-50%.
  • Get our cats neutered. A neutered cat is less likely to roam.

3 small steps, with huge consequences for our garden birds.

We used to let our dogs walk themselves around our streets and parks, now we use leads and pooper-scoopers. So isn't it time that we changed the way we keep our cats too?

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    You will always hear this from cat owners “oh my cat is soft and affectionate and wouldn’t hurt a fly” …yes its nice to you! Because its not gonna bite the hand that feeds it! When you let it out and shut the door behind you and it strays off into fields and scrub-land it reverts back to nature and hunts with stealth and cunning. There are approximately 8 million cats in the UK! Surly you can see that’s not natural. For every one responsible owner you can be sure there’s a 100 that aren’t.

  • Comment number 2.

    I agree that the research needs to be done and curious to know the results of this. I also firmly agree with your last 2 sentences Chris! Times change....

  • Comment number 3.

    Totally agree with you Chris! Especially about getting cats neutered. I`ve worked at a cat rescue centre for a number of years and I`ve learned first hand how much the cat population seems to be out of control. People really do need to realise how much damage they are doing, not only to wildlife but also the welfare of cats by not getting them neutered.

    Btw, our cat Ted, is neutered and much happier for it. P.S It was his 6th birthday yesterday! :)

  • Comment number 4.

    The single biggest problem with cats is that they exist at far higher densities than natural predators, and their survival and numbers is not dependent on their prey. So it is a very unnatural situation. Normally if a predator's prey starts to decline, then so does its own population and breeding success. Self-evidently this does not happen with the cat population.

    I'm not trying to demonise cats. The problem is not so much keeping cats as a pet, but the amount of people that want to keep cats as a pet, and how these cats are allowed to roam wherever they want. The problem would not be so great if the cat ownership was much lower, or if cats were not allowed to roam. If people say it is cruel to keep cats confined to their property, then it is clearly not a suitable pet. Normally someone buying an animal as a pet has to first consider whether they have the space and facilities to keep it. Yet with cats this is never considered and people take it for granted that their cat can roam and wander wherever it likes. This is not considered acceptable with dogs, horses, or virtually any other animal kept as a pet. So why is it considered different with cats?

    Ecologically cats are the only type pet that acts in the natural environment like a fully active predator. Yes dogs can cause disturbance to natural habitat and do take some wildlife. However, generally dogs are not free to roam.

    Having observed some of what my mother's cats have caught their toll on the local wildlife must be incredible. As I mentioned in the other blog entry one of my mother's cats caught numerous Water Voles, bats, Common Lizards, and this is not mentioning all the birds, rabbits, squirrels etc it caught. It was catching these Water Voles when they were in serious decline. During the warmer months it was catching at least 10 prey items a day. However the important point is it that it was only one of numerous other cats in this immediate area.

    Rather than being anti-cat, I agree with Chris Packham that we need to re-consider what is acceptable with cat keeping. This is especially important since our agriculture has intensified and the area around our houses, gardens and other green spaces have become important reservoirs for much of this wildlife displaced from the countryside. Just because people have taken for granted owning a cat and letting it roam, does not mean that it should continue like this. Remember cats are just about the only pets that are allowed to freely roam onto land that the owner has no permission for their cat to be on. So for instance you might have a local nature reserve that might be surrounded by houses with cats. It would not be acceptable that people just let their dogs free to roam around this nature reserve, so why is it thought okay when it's a cat?

  • Comment number 5.

    I forgot to add that our cat is a house cat, which not only ensures his safety but also puts less pressure on the wildlife.

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree with you Chris. I love cats and I have always had a pet cat since I was a young girl. My first cat didn't hunt at all (he was rather bad at it) but my current cat has hunted in the past, much to my frustration. She is a little older now so she just watches the birds rather than seeking them out. She has also caught mice in the past but as I say not any more. I don't let her out at night and I agree that this can be a responsible way to keep your cat. I used to work for Cats Protection and one of the things we used to advise was to keep your cat in at night but the reason we gave was mainly to prevent road traffic accidents and predation by foxes for your cat, I think the danger they pose to other wildlife is another reason this should be advised and I wish I still worked there to introduce this. I had no idea of the numbers of birds caught by cats, 55 million is huge!! Some cats are more hunters than others, I love these little predators and the fact that domestication has not done much to suppress this instinct. I do agree, however, that responsible cat ownership is the key to solving this. My own cat shall remain indoors overnight, even in her old age. :D x PS. She regularly runs at the TV wide eyed whenever your birds come on screen!

  • Comment number 7.

    Its very sad where I live you never hear bird-song it’s a sterile environment that’s because most of the families are obsessed with keeping cats. Any bird trying to make a nest wouldn’t stand a chance round here it would need barred-wire round it! It’s a bit like being a non-smoker surrounded by smokers because I live in a cul-de-sac of 6 houses and mine is the only house without a cat and because its wildlife friendly I’m constantly under siege from cats because there garden’s and driveways are tarmac over.

  • Comment number 8.

    Cats don't just go for garden birds. My friend (living in Birmingham) was surprised by an horrendous sound coming from her kitchen one evening. She rushed in to find her cat trying to drag a seagull headfirst through the catflap. I think any device attached to the cat which warns the birds that they are about is a winner.

  • Comment number 9.

    Sorry guys.
    Although i agree with the sentiment, broadcasting this is giving the anti cat brigade fuel for their fire. Check out press stories regarding the shooting or poisoning of cats, then look at the comments attached. We all like to think we're animal lovers and responsible but there is a minority that think this kind of story justifies illegal acts of cruelty towards pets.

  • Comment number 10.

    When I was young in the Sixties, there used to be at least a hundred birds you could view from my garden in the valleys. Today you would be hard pressed to see 10. There is only one reason for this in my eyes. Cats. I love Cats but I miss the birds more...

  • Comment number 11.

    I have two elderly cats who can no longer catch any birds but as younger cats i used to spray them with water if they brought me a bird as a present and give them a treat for the mice and rats. To be honest they brought me mainly mice but it is a cats instinct to catch moving things. Evolution has a lot to answer for!
    I am more annoyed about the increase in magpies in Liverpool and i am saddened when i hear the alarm call of our birds when their babies are being attacked by these black and white pests. I think a cull of magpies is needed. What do other viewersw think?

  • Comment number 12.

    Hi peeps. Re feature about cats. Our family occasionally use directions hair dye. Comes in bright purple and red etc.. The stuff old punks and asian women use. You can decide which we are. We use the excess to dye the cat. He brings in less birds when coloured Birds have great colour vision. Rodents don't. Have thought about starting a campaign to 'Paint Your Cat'. I reckon the brighter the better. Don't strangle your cat with bells on collars just dye it.

  • Comment number 13.

    I am more worried about magpies waiting for the fledging blue tits they are more successful than the cats

  • Comment number 14.

    I have birdboxes in my garden, I also have 3 cats. My garden is protected by a cat fence fixed to the top of the fence by netting between brackets, at a right angle bending into the garden. It stops cats getting in or out and the birds are protected from larger birds preying on their nestlings. Had all my bluetits fledge successfully this year, but kept the cats indoors while they were fledging.

  • Comment number 15.

    Anyone got any links/recommendations for bleeping collars?

  • Comment number 16.

    WE have had 4 cats over the past 15 years (2 no longer with us), but only 1 cat has ever brought in any animal (mouse or bird). That is the youngest one, all the others have never brought anything in.

  • Comment number 17.

    Its such an obvious thing, keeping the cat in at night, yet something I hadnt thought of. Will be doing so now...thanks :)

  • Comment number 18.

    Since i as a young boy ive always fed the birds in my garden an over the time ive had many many different type of birds visit my table and feeders over the years,unfortunatley since a new nieghbour moved in some time ago with her 4/5 cats my feeders are hardly used and hardly ever need filled up as the seed or food stuff goes off. Dont seem to get any variety off birds any more and wasnt even worth taking part in your big bird survey this year.

  • Comment number 19.

    I have 2 cats, we live next to woodland and have alot of birds, from robins, woodpeackers, jays and pheasants in our garden and i have found our cats bring in mice not birds. The birds actually bully our cats with noisy chatter and dive bombing them! the pheasant even had a go! Cats are clever animals, but birds are intelligent too!

  • Comment number 20.

    Everyone and everything can cause harm to the environment - argueably humans are the worst. And of course there are 'good' cats and 'bad' cats, my black moggy is about 16 and spends most of his time asleep or having cuddles and stays inside.
    If he does go out it's usually to get a fuss from my neighbour or lie on my ramp in the sun! I can't say he doesn't hunt - but I have never seen him catch anything, he's too slow for even the spiders and can't be bothered to chase the ducks that frequent the garden - even when they come in the house and eat his breakfast!!!

  • Comment number 21.

    We have a cat that lives in a kennel in the garden. A hedgehog lives under this kennel and keeps popping into the kennel and helping himself to the cat food. We also have some nesting blackbirds in the garden, who also keep hopping into the kennel and helping themselves to the cat food. Whilst all this is going on the cat sits 2ft away, seemingly unperturbed by all the activity!

  • Comment number 22.

    In my garden I have been recently watching a family of blue tits. Soon the blue tit chicks were looking like they were ready to fledge. BUT my neighbour's cat caught one chick and I heard it die. It moaned in agony. It broke my heart. I'm now against cats.

  • Comment number 23.

    Hello Chris, Martin & McKayla,
    Our cat Mali loves Springwatch and will watch it intently until it stops. She has a soft spot for Chris but seems less interested when Martin talks! :)
    If you could read this out during unsprung I'd be delighted (and so would Mali).
    Thanks
    Crazy Maisy

  • Comment number 24.

    Just to clarify the point I was making. I'm not suggesting that all cat owners allow their cats to wander wherever at all times of the day. I recognise that there are many responsible cat owners. The difficulty is that there is no compulsion to be a responsible cat owner and I would hazard a guess that the majority of cats are not looked after with this more responsible attitude. So the challenge is to find a means of moving towards a generally more responsible mode of cat ownership, where people take responsibility for what their cats do, rather than just shrugging their shoulders and saying cats will be cats.

  • Comment number 25.

    The two bell collar did the trick two of our dogs lept in to life when Chris rang it,they flew into the garden in great expectation of coming across a feline visitor,they trudged in quite disappointed.

  • Comment number 26.

    I have worked with animals and always had cats all my life. my garden is a wildlife haven.So out of my 3 cats one is a predetor so i have a system.I generally keep them in at night,but most of all they sleep a lot so when they are asleep the birds will play! Thats when i feed them.They seem to have cottoned on to this system.It works.I have giant French lop Rabbits Bigger than cats when they are in the garden the birds come down and feed next to them!

  • Comment number 27.

    No cat should wear a collar, I went to work one day, only to return to find the cat had managed to get its front paw through the collar, and was in a very distressed state going round and round in circles. I have never put a collar on any of my cats since. Also my friend found her cat dead in a tree, it had got its collar hooked on a twig and had hung its self. I am astonished to hear you promoting collars for cats!
    I am also a bird lover, and feed them in my garden, my cat however has never brought one in, but he does bring in mice, collars on cats is cruel.

  • Comment number 28.

    Changing tack slightly. I inherited a cat a couple of years ago. She lives upstairs in my house, because downstairs is owned by my elderly labrador, and rarely goes outside.
    I have have blackbirds nesting in my garden and have been fascinated to observe a male blackbird displaying aggressive behaviour towards my cat when she is sitting on an upstairs window sill, just watching. Not only does the male blackbird issue it's warning call, but it also flies towards the cat attempting to frighten it off...

  • Comment number 29.

    My cat freaks out at the bell collar, but I really liked the idea of the tech collars Chris was talking about could we have some details or a link to where we can get these. thanks

  • Comment number 30.

    The bottom line is that cats are wonderful but lots of cat-owners are not!
    My 11-year-old cat is now entirely a house-cat but in his younger days, when he did go out, I tried to be responsible: I kept him in at night from dusk until after dawn, I fitted him with a collar and a bell, I didn't have a cat flap, so he couldn't come and go as he pleased, but could only go out when I let him (I never let him out if I wasn't going to be around to let him in again, either!). Some cat owners would probably consider those restrictions cruel, but he didn't seem to be unhappy about any of it!

    Sadly a lot of my neighbours don't show the same care for wildlife: their cats are allowed to roam at will, they don't fit belled collars, they leave them out all day while they are at work or leave the cat flap open (which is almost as bad). As a result I had to fit one of the RSPB's ultrasonic cat deterrents in my garden to protect the birds. It works, but its effectiveness depends on where you site it and the angle you position it at. (I know it works because when the battery dies, the neighbourhood cats start sniffing round again until I replace it).

    Cat curfew is the way to go and education is the key. Maybe it would help if they introduced responsible cat ownership to the school curriculum? That way future generations of cat owners are educated about it and at the same time they take the message home to their cat-owning parents!

  • Comment number 31.

    It would be nice to know some details of the bleeping cat collars such as where to get hold of them. Any chance you can mention this on 'Unsprung"?

  • Comment number 32.

    I know cats have a bad image for hunting but hey.. they ARE hunters after all, its a bit like trying to stop lions from killing!! although i agree especially this time of year we should be a bit more vigilant as to what they get up to. Ours has a bell that makes quite a loud noise and so far he hasnt caught anything (as far as we know).

    My concern though especially round our way is not the cats but Magpies, they kill more young birds in this area than all the cats put together. I counted 6 hanging around my bluetit box the other morning and another 7 in the copse next door just waiting to grab the young birds as they leave their nests for the first time. How about conducting a survey on the number of birds they kill? Would it be legal to cull them when they outnumber every other bird in the area? just think of the numbers of young birds that may get a chance to live a bit longer than 5 minutes.

  • Comment number 33.

    I don't see why we should place the blame entirely on our feline companions.
    Everyone says that they are killing off our native songbirds. Surely we should look into the destruction of hedges and the paving of our gardens. We used to have a circle of hollybushes and other wild shrubs where all of the local birds would nest.
    They had picked their nest sites well! I would watch my cat swipe her tail in frustration. Once the hedges were cleared my cat began to bring in baby birds.

    We've had wild cats in this country for millennia. Have we all forgotten the Scottish wildcat. It's more likely that we humans have pushed small birds to the brink rather than a moggy that has been here far longer than us

    So dont be so quick as to point the blame before we have amassed enough data.

  • Comment number 34.

    while i agree that cats are a problem with birds and small mammels, where i live in a quiet housing estate the major problem here are magpies. they sit in the nearby trees and search out nearly every blackbirds nest in the immediate surrounding area, the distress calls and screeches are most upsetting to me and all my neighbours around

  • Comment number 35.

    I have a system to keep my cats in and other cats out, a netting fence fixed to the top of my garden fence by aluminium brackets, the fence faces at a right angle into my garden. I also have had 4 successful bluetit nestboxes, all fledged safely. I kept the cats indoors whilst the birds were fledging. The net also protects the nests from large predators like crows and other predator birds. Works a treat. Also keeps me in my neighbours good books as my cats can't get out and use their gardens as a toilet.

  • Comment number 36.

    Hello!

    I don't know if it's cats or crows/magpies that have devastated three nests full of blue tits in a matter of hours. They fledged and the next day - gone! Not one! I am so sad, the constant chatter from the nests and nestbox; not there anymore, the silence is deafening. It's awful, after what seemed like weeks they are MIA?

    I'm not surprised, they were so noisy, the day they fledged I chased off two magpies and two Crows, they were queuing up to get the feathery, ping pong balls of fluffy protein.

    We have cats that constantly try to chase our chickens, probably ten in a fifty metre radius. tho I tried to make the garden cat proof, yeah right! As the fresh cat poo dropped casually round the garden proves I didn't.

    I got some amazing photo's of the little guys as they left the nests and flew uncontrollably round our garden. One flew and tickled my ear as it flew from the apple tree to the budlia tree fifteen feet.

    I hope the little fella's are ok, though after watching Springwatch I expect them to be in a tummy of a baby corvid somewhere.

    Thanks for the show-love it
    Jake

  • Comment number 37.

    I am an owner of two cats and as much as I love them will never get over how awful it is when they bring things home. I wonder what the advice is when cats bring home mammals and birds that are alive. Whilst I try shutting them in at night, and fitting bells it doesn't eliminate it happening, and many a time I have managed to 'rescue' birds which I have kept in a shoe box overnight and them released the next day if they seem recovered and at battling for freedom. I have read though, that the bacteria on cats teeth may kill them even though they looked fitting fit when you release them. Is this true, am I in fact making these birds I think I have rescued suffer longer? I even had a mouse living in my lounge for two days whilst we tried to catch and release it! It certainly seemed fitting fit when we did eventually catch it which is why this took so long!

  • Comment number 38.

    I know you said that its better for the birds to keep cats in at night. But what about keeping cats in in the day? (my cat has hunted both dayand night in the past provinding when we've let him out) Im going get him one of thise bleeping collar anyway) and keephim in when i'ts best for the birds.

  • Comment number 39.

    We endlessly hear about the threat that cats pose to wildlife and it is true that some of them are predators. Just for the record I have had 6 cats over the years and only one of them caught birds (and frogs - the frogs were always unharmed by this ). Many birds came to the garden as I put out a lot of food for them. My last cat used to lie on the patio where I had bird feeders on the ground. Parent birds would bring their young down to the ground to feed them and my cat would lie there completely uninterested.
    I now have a dog and would not trust him with fledglings on the ground so I no longer encourage birds into the garden i.e. I no longer put food out for them.
    There are worse threats to birds and other wildlife than cats - for example just look at our roads to see the carnage!

  • Comment number 40.

    It's rubbish for the RSPB to say that it's inconclusIve that cats do not contribute to the dramatic fall in the number of the bird population. This year alone in my garden a cat has killed a parent Blue Tit thus in turn condemning 7 small nestlings which perished in the nest box. A nest with 2 Collared Dove chicks was also predated by a cat.

  • Comment number 41.

    Mr Packham, you need to give a more honest and balanced view of cat and in particular dog ownership.
    You are clearly in a minority of dog owners where you claim to be responsible. The bane of the birder/ wildlife watcher in the countryside nowadays is the dog walker.
    Very few dog walkers in my experience control their dogs. This is particularly so where I live in Devon which is over run with dogs.
    Even in the breeding season I have had countless encounters with dogs running amok in woods, moors and coast paths. When owners are challenged, they just don't understand the impact on wildlife.
    Other countries are less tolerant of dogs. In Australia dogs must be leashed for example on beaches as dogs disturb ground nesting birds and can cause the adults to abandon the nest.
    Surely the same issue occurs in the UK where our ground nesting birds are faring very badly.
    Cats do have an impact on the bird population particularly in urban areas (although our cat has never taken a bird - we trained her from an early age - it is possible) but dog owners are as culpable but sadly the Springwatch article was purely anti cats.
    Even the BBC HD advert after the programme showed a cat stalking pigeons!
    No doubt the piece was put together by the dog owning presenters!!

  • Comment number 42.

    On the topic of cats i find if our cat stays out for the night he tends to catch rats and mice and the next day he spends a lot of it sleeping and is a lot less active and accurate when trying to catch the birds.

  • Comment number 43.

    I really don't consider my cat a threat to wildlife - as a hunter, she's not very good to say the least!

  • Comment number 44.

    Why did Chris Packham tell the Springwatch viewers not to fit elasticated safety collars. It is a rediculous thing to say as elasticated collars are elasticated for a purpose and that is in case a cat gets caught on a twig or similar letting the cat throw the collar as to escape. To tell millions of viewers not to fit these collars and fit ones that arnt elasticated was a stupid thing to say and i hope cat owners will ignor his incorrect poor advice Regards Don

  • Comment number 45.

    Cats take a range of small mammal species that may be seen to compete against many garden variety birds for food resources. Not only that, but other garden birds are just as destructive. Magpies kill and push out smaller birds and have been known to predate on other birds eggs and starlings will drive-out other birds. Truth is, the average UK garden only has a small amount of capacity to allow our naive birds to thrive, which is why our garden bird populations are in decline – cats or no cats.

  • Comment number 46.

    Id also like to know wher the bleeper collars canbe obtained and when the battery runs out is it or the whole collar replaced?

  • Comment number 47.

    PS iagree Whith Don Shorrock about chrise's comment also wahat about snap catch collars? (probably even safer than elastic ones).

  • Comment number 48.

    My cats are neutered.
    I don't believe that reduces their wish for hunting. I have had too many songbirds delivered to my door recently. I will be putting a litter-tray for them at night, and keep them in.
    I will never put a collar on my cats. That is wrong and potentionally dangerous

  • Comment number 49.

    I'd rather a sparrowhawk got a meal than an already well-fed cat. Comment from Chris.
    Absolutely. After all, the cat doesn't eat it. So, keep your cat in at night with a littertray. happy housecat, happy birds.!
    Domesticated cats would rather be in at night any way!! It is us that believe, (or rather want to believe) that they should be put out at night..

  • Comment number 50.

    i am so shocked! Deluded comments about cats that don't hunt, or can be trained not to hunt/catch/kill birds!! What planet?? i have kept cats for many years.They all hunt!!! Cats are wonderful,but all kill small small wriggly things. Get over it.

  • Comment number 51.

    I am so angry with all this cat hating. The suggestion of keeping cats in at night is totally against what is natural for an animal which is crepuscular and could start a whole new debate on animal cruelty. Perhaps Springwatch should consult animal behaviourists before making such ill-thought out comments. This is hardly the same as picking up dog poo Chris. You are making no real change to the dog's life pattern or routine - just keeping them on a lead and picking up their poo. I expected more from you. Surely you understand about crepuscular animals.? At the start of your bulletin last night you stated that the RSPB didn't think cats had much to do with it at all. But obviously that doesn't give you a story does it so Springwatch has totally chosen to ignore that statement and continue with its cat hating.

  • Comment number 52.

    Birchdryad - I think you are mad! Cats on the curriculum! Cat curfew? Do you know anything about animals at all!!!!

  • Comment number 53.

    FrancesQu1, post 52 Yes actually, I do and it looks like I also know more than you about the kind of subject that *does* make it to the curriculum these days! :-)

  • Comment number 54.

    Maybe it's different in England but in Scotland under the recently-introduced "Curriculum for Excellence", primary schools cover subjects such as good citizenship and PSD (personal and social development) as part of the curriculum. There is no reason why responsible pet ownership couldn't be covered under the citizenship work.

  • Comment number 55.

    Further to my assertion that I do know about animals, I should clarify that I am a qualified scientist and a large part of my degree included zoology and related subjects. I take your point about cats being crepuscular but that doesn't mean that they can't be kept in at night: a responsible owner would simply ensure that the cats had enough stimulation indoors in the evening and early morning until the urge to hunt had died down again.

  • Comment number 56.

    CnS 3 I think dog owners should be neutered.

    An escaped eagle owl flew off with our last chicken, a silky. I say keep all eagle owls locked up. Or maybe all silky chickens. We live in St Albans.

  • Comment number 57.

    I have pleased I have at last found a way to contact you, Chris. I am sorry to say that I have become very anti-cat - although friends cats always choose my lap to sit on - because of the impact they have had on our garden birds. There are about three cats that regularly invade our garden, despite the fact our dog chases them, and we back onto a wild area of land which is a favourite hunting ground for all the neighbouring cats. Because I encourage the birds by having lots of feeders and a pond, we do have a lot visit our garden but the numbers have dropped. I had some very friendly blackbirds and thrush but I know that many of these have fallen prey to the cats. Very upsetting to see and especially one wonderful female blackbird that used to call me to feed her mealworms. Why can't we bring in legilslation to make cat owners control their cats? I agree with the comment that cats should be confined to their own homes - that would reduce the number of stray cats and road casualties and give our wildlife a chance. I have friends with very content house cats that are restricted to their own gardens. And how can the estimated 60 million or so birds caught by cats EVERY year, not affect the overall population?
    Let's give our poor birds a break, please?

  • Comment number 58.

    Birchdryad - your point number 55 exactly proves that you don't understand or know about cats!

  • Comment number 59.

    FrancesQu1 Maybe Birchdryad maens that cat owners should keep them indoors with a lot of birds flying around. Like that man on Springwatch with the blackbirds.

  • Comment number 60.

    FrancesQu1 the sad thing is that I do agree with some of your points on the other blog: you are right about hedges, for example: the destruction of hedges, paving of driveways and gardens, intensive agriculture (including reduced field margins and over-use of pesticides which result in reduced insect numbers) lack of nest sites etc all plays a large part - possibly the largest part - in the decline of songbirds. Your continued personal attack on me, however, only undermines the integrity of your other arguments and that is a shame because there is a lot of sense in what you say.

  • Comment number 61.

    I think the problem lies with the lack of 'apex' super predators to redress the balance. Help to make Goshwaks, Eagle Owls and Golden Eagles more widespread which would control Magpies and Crows, re-introduce the Lynx and people might think twice about letting tiddles roam wherever it wants.

  • Comment number 62.

    I would like to ask the Springwatch programmers if they think they are presenting a fair and balanced study? Aside from completely wiping aside the RSPB comments and steaming ahead with your own 'study', all you are doing is sticking a camera on some bloke's ginger cat and claiming 'Now we can find out what cats really get up to' hoping to prove they are mad killers. Actually, you'll just get footage of what one cat got up to. Add to this Chris Packhams unbalanced 'time for a change' comments and the random figures of bird loss and you aredoing your upmost to pin the total bodycount on cats and their owners without any kind of proper, balanced, lengthy scientific survey. In essence you are stirring it for a story and putting it out on national television.
    Point 41 by Heevie, Point 33 DawnWhisker and particularly Point 9 by Peanutmummy are all right on the button and true. With point 9 in mind I really feel it appropriate to take the Springwatch presentation of this matter to the BBC Complaints Commission.

  • Comment number 63.

    Davcm post 59 Hmmmmm! :-)

  • Comment number 64.

    Debates about cats always become heated but if all contributors could stick to facts without becoming emotional or abusive, it would help to improve understanding on both sides :-)

  • Comment number 65.

    Well Point 60 birchdryad I do apologise wholeheartedly if my post come accross as a personal attack. I surely didn't mean to offend you but looking back yes I am getting a bit heated. Please accept my apology.
    You see I find this whole topic in general a personal attack on me and I guess I am just getting upset. Springwatch has let the forums ramble on with this theme in previous years but never put it on national tv - and I don't feel they are doing it well. Massive debate - short slot in the show.
    I used to write about cats professionally and I feel I am sticking up for my own cat. He lost his mum to a cat hater when he was still taking milk. I am forever thinking of his care, health and happiness and he is in effect my surrogate child. I also love the wildlife in our garden and we do our best to feed, shelter and care for all creatures too. In fact I spend more on the birds that the cat! One thing I could never do is impose a cat curfew. You have to know your cat. With some cats, they would just take it as an excuse to snooze in the warm, with a young cat or kitten you can train them from an early age, but with established cats, it depends on the personality as to whether they can adapt. Just shutting down his access to go outside in his most active hours would lead to huge unhappiness - I know from trying to keep him in for medical reasons. If cats can go from howling to getting depression then he did. He only ever brings in mice at night. And he eats what he catches....always. If he was up and about more in the day believe me, he would go for and catch birds. Better he goes out at night. Anyway - you have to know your own cat. Post already too long so I'll stop now!

  • Comment number 66.

    Frances: no offence taken and I do understand why you are upset. I've lived with cats all my life, I do love them, I think they are amazing and I agree that a lot of dog owners are not as responsible as they should be either! 55 million is a lot of songbirds though and to be fair to Chris Packham, he did say he just wants to see if a curfew would have an effect. I think the real problem lies with the fact that most cat owners choose cats as a pet in the mistaken belief that all they have to do is feed them and then leave them to it. That might be why there are such large numbers of cats as pets: they're seen as low-maintenance. If the springwatch debate makes people think twice about that, it would be a good thing! I share your concern that it plays into the hands of cat-haters, though. Cats were persecuted for centuries and sometimes still are and I would hate to see an upsurge in that.

  • Comment number 67.

    We have counted 11 different cats visiting our garden to use it as a toilet. When they have finished turning our garden into a sewerage farm they then set about turning it into a killing field. To date we have buried 2 young magpies, countless small birds but the most heartbreaking has been the 2 female blackbirds still with the nesting material in their beaks. Before the cat lovers start shouting that some could have natural causes all the birds had deep teeth wounds. Now if we see a blackbird building a nest in our garden we stop them continuing by destroying the partially built nest. We know where some of the cats live and that their owners are out to work all day. We also know that these cats are locked out of the house, some as early as 6.30am, and that is when most of the killing takes place.

  • Comment number 68.

    RightPrice, post 67: have you tried the RSPB's ultrasonic cat deterrent? (www.rspb.co.uk/shop)

  • Comment number 69.

    Why does countryfile think it is alright to view a mink raiding a nest of kingfishers but are horrified to see a cat raiding a nest of woodwarblers. I dont think the birds make such a fine distinction - the result for them is the same.

  • Comment number 70.

    I am a cat owner and a wildlife lover and I try very hard to balance the two. I always have my cats from young kittens and discourage them from chasing birds right from the start. A kind but firm hand on their bottom when they show the first signs of trying to catch birds etc. and telling them why they shouldn't do it has always worked quite well for me. Normally if I see them mis-behaving in this way, I only have shout " that's naughty thoughts " to them and they look fairly contrite and stop it. Okay they do have a few mishaps and get carried away with their natural instincts, but in general the early training and reinforcement does work and I would recommend people try it out if they want to be cat owners and still enjoy the birds in their gardens.

  • Comment number 71.

    I'm glad this was shown and highlighted ( The programme is 'Springwatch' not Countryfile) The result maybe the same but the cause entirely different. The cat on Springwatch is descended from or could be someones pet. This irresponsible person doesnt care what this thing gets up to at night like millions of others. 1000s are spent on that reserve protecting birds and if I were a warden at Yns-hir I'd have traps down for them (and Mink, Grey Squirrels etc etc) to give these vulnerable birds a chance.

  • Comment number 72.

    I spend a considerable amount of money annually on bird food but the pleasure I get from the birds which come to the feeding station is well worth it. I did, however, notice that cats were also attracted by 'easy meat'. To deter these unwanted visitors I put holly branches under the shrubs closest to the bird feeders. This has worked a treat! The odd cat does still stray into the garden but they have nowhere to hide now which gives the birds a chance.

  • Comment number 73.

    I love cats and all wildlife and I'm a cat owner with an indoor cat - she doesn't roam around and to date (at nearly 5 years old) she hasn't killed anything bigger than a house spider (although I know she'd love to). She goes out in my garden under my supervision, I've trained her not to jump over the fence and she has a great time watching birds and looking for mice and frogs without hurting them! I wonder how many other cat owners do the same thing - am I an exception? I definitely agree with keeping cats in at night and definitely neuter them, there's too many unwanted cats as it is.

  • Comment number 74.

    @ post 69 Marilly - the reason for the debate is mainly most cats (but not all) are fed by their owner and therefore have no 'need' to hunt for survival unlike the mink who took the kingfisher chicks. However some folk have said they believe the cat on the webcam was feral.

    Introduced species or not (whole other debate thread on this elsewhere) the mink doesn't hunt then the mink doesn't eat - it won't be fed by an 'owner'.

  • Comment number 75.

    As retired smallholders my wife and I have tried to farm in tune with nature,having many cats adopting us,many from neighboring farms,plus we have always had lots of bird feeders most the year round,especially when there is a shortage of food,and we make sure they have water winter as well as summer.

    Not mentioned in this cat/bird issue ,is the often illogical excuses for blaming cats for the demise of song birds,like the old chestnut used by some farmers/growers and the blood sports lobby,that if there are x number of cats they must all catch x number of birds,ending up with some figure of x million birds killed,mickey mouse logic.

    Because the FACTS are, not all cats take birds some don't bother to hunt any animal,many of our cats have never taken birds,but rabbits,rats,and other mammals maybe the reason the 'Mammal Society' are so keen to demonize cats.Then the farmers all to willing to blame cats ,themselves have many feral cats,[good ratters']and don't feed them,this is nonsense because if cat is not a hunter not feeding it does not make it a good hunter ,then there is the welfare of the cat getting sick and suffering .

    So as members of 'Cats Protection'and other charities we do our best to get such cats neutered ,and it has improved things,but much to be done.Keeping urban cats in at night is one tried and tested practice,but as with neutering many are too lazy or caring to bother,and often such people are the first to blame cats for bird demise.

    Then if we allow all the old barns house with nesting/roosting sites to be developed or destroyed ,and destroy feeding habit ,then blaming cats/magpies is just another issue dodging excuse,we have huge old deep litter house which the swallows nest in,and we have house martins nesting under eves of our house ,when the chicks hatch we get a load of dumps right outside the back door,all it takes is a bucket of water and its cleaned up in no time.We worry about who has the house when we fall off our perches ,our son has gone away from farming and would sell up

  • Comment number 76.

    I do like cats, but I don't like how they kill millions of birds!
    I used to want a cat, until I found out I was allergic, and they bring in mice, birds etc!

  • Comment number 77.

    In Australia, where I am from, some Councils have banned cats being out at night in order to protect the wildlife because cats are not native to Australia, BUT that leaves few predators that can keep mice and rat populations down, which are also not native. Cats need to be out at night to keep rodent populations in check, and unfortunately other animals may be caught also - look what happened in the Great Plague when people mistakenly thought cats and dogs were causing it and killed them leaving the Black Rat to increase, and of course the plague-bearing flea of the Black Rat. There needs to be a balance, and Mother Nature has been pretty good at that so far (without man's interference)! I have four cats, they only go out supervised, one I walk on a lead for her own safety as we have a busy road. I also have a cat enclosure I have yet to put up for them that would cover the patio. There is a Farm Cat that comes around regularly, and he is out at night, so helps reduce rodent numbers. Owners can train cats NOT to catch birds as I have done in the past when my cats were out un-tethered, but it takes time and patience, but is not impossible.

  • Comment number 78.

    I am totally confussed as to how we reach the figure of 55 million birds being killed by cats. Did someone count the bodies? How was this research done - because it seems to be pivitol. In my confussion, I visited the RSPB website - a Society that has bird's interests at heart remember - and put cat predation into the search box. This is a direct quote from an article that came up BY THE RSPB.
    'Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide. This may be surprising, but many millions of birds die naturally every year, mainly through starvation, disease, or other forms of predation. There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds.
    It is likely that most of the birds killed by cats would have died anyway from other causes before the next breeding season. We also know that of the millions of baby birds hatched each year, most will die before they reach breeding age. This is also quite natural, and each pair needs only to rear two young that survive to breeding age to replace themselves and maintain the population.
    It is likely that most of the birds killed by cats would have died anyway from other causes before the next breeding season, so cats are unlikely to have a major impact on populations.'
    The above excerpt is from an RSPB article I must stress - and I would like Chris Packham and the rest of you to take note. Now, about that glib 55million figure...

  • Comment number 79.

    There was a unique bird on an Australasian island called the Stephen Island Wren. The lighthouse keepers pet cat killed the entire world population of this little bird and caused its extinction in a matter of weeks. To me, the number of birds killed by cats is immaterial. What bugs me is the way people have these animals and then try and justify their killing by saying its only instinct. They like to have a furry creature about the house (to possibly fill some hole in their life - who knows?) which goes out sinking its fangs and claws indiscriminately into anything it can catch. I respect responsible, conscientious cat owners....the rest i feel sorry for because of their ignorance. There are lots of cats round here without collars, people let them stray all over the place. Not only do they kill but spray smelly urine everywhere and crap in my garden. Would you tolerate this from a dog? I will be getting some humane cat traps from rspca very soon.

  • Comment number 80.

    RightPrice 67 Solution, move.

    Rosie 76 They are bringing you gifts because they think you are starving.

    FQ1 78 1,000,000 cats X 55 birds = 55 million birds. Simples.

  • Comment number 81.

    I am a cat lover, but also a wildlife lover and admit to preferring the company of wildlife and animals more than people. I have two cats which are mainly house cats have been neutred and only go out when I am at home and are kept in at night. I have also secured brackets into the fence posts and netting that goes around the whole of the garden,area for the cats which is sectioned off from the rest of the wildlife garden. The brackets and netting is something that I saw at a Cats Protection place which looked like a great idea in keeping my cats safe and also stopping them from catching the wildlife. Not only does it stop the cats from getting to the main country roads which have fast traffic on it also stops them from getting to my pond and bird areas where they nest, eat and bath. It is very rare that my cats have caught anything as the older birds know not to land in the cats part of the garden unless my doors are closed which means they are indoors. The other 3/4 of the garden is for the birds, bees, hedgehogs, shrews etc and where the wildlife pond is with the frogs, great crested newts and plenty of other pondlife. I guess what I am saying is it can work, you just have to put some money and time into designing a garden to suit all of the wildlife and your pets.

  • Comment number 82.

    davmcn 80. Ahh thanks for that. Simples maths from simples souls. A+B=E!

  • Comment number 83.

    But what about frogs! I read once that domestic cats kill a huge amount of frogs.
    Is this true? If so cats have gotta go.

  • Comment number 84.

    FQ1 82 I was a math major at college.

    h-r 83 Our visiting cat tries to fish frogs out of our pond. (can you frog fish?) The cat is quite welcome in our garden, and house, any time.

  • Comment number 85.

    We had blue tits nesting in a box in our garden until a week ago; A neighbours cat hunted them relentlessly despite our best efforts to protect them, standing on the box and swiping at the entrance. We put chicken wire around the box (no, the blue tits didn't mind) and even asked the owners of the cat politely to keep their darling moggie in at night, to give our birds a fighting chance, and although they agreed, we were alerted by a blue tit alarm call late at night to see the cat again standing on the top of the box swiping at the entrance. Consequently, the parents called the chicks to fledge, long before they were ready to get them away from the cat, thus they could not fly. As they would have continued to get them away from the box, we did our best to nurse them following all the correct advice, but lost them. We watched the box all day every day until the remaining chick emerged 2 days later, which was better developed but still unable to fly, so we took it to a wildlife hospital at 10.00pm, a round trip of 100 miles, and got back home at 2am exhausted, but worth it, to get it away from the clutches of the cat. Sorry Chris, just not cat people, used to have a dog, which was never left on it's own or let out into the garden without supervision, so we can honestly say, she never attacked any wildlife. We will be having another dog, moggies soon get the picture!

  • Comment number 86.

    Either I have missed it or has no one commented on the use of ultrasonic cat deterrents? I have these in my garden, covering the hedges and bird tables and THEY WORK! Unfortunately they do not stop the sparrowhawks predating on the songbirds and I know people will say the hawks are endangered but with the rapid demise in songbirds, including sparrows, I think the clue is in the name. One breeding pair of sparrowhawks will take 3500 songbirds per year, this is the BTO figures, more than a pair of cats will take in a year!

  • Comment number 87.

    Country Kate,

    That's natural predation for starters, so not really in the same league as domestic cats. Rapter populations took a beating during the last two centuries due to persecution, so to have them around at all is almost a miracle, and tells us that something is going right. Most of the species your garden sparrow hawks will take are nowhere near endangered - blue tits, blackbirds, pigeons - their name might be sparrowhawk, but they don't just take that species. That breeding pair will be feeding their own chicks with the birds they catch, and let's be honest, I'm assuming you don't feel the same way about barn owls which probably take thousands of voles and mice each year.

    I personally feel the term song bird is actually quite harmful, because not all song birds are in decline. Many are thriving, and it's used very badly as an umbrella term, as in this case (no offence intended!)

    Hopefully that goes some way towards explaining why sparrowhawks, and indeed magpies and crows, should not be singled out as the bad guys!

  • Comment number 88.

    I agree with pretty much everything Chris has said in his blog post (didn't see the show so can't comment on that). Cats should be kept in at night, for their own safety and comfort if anything, and although there are concerns over collar use, I think these can be solved quite easily.

    I can also see why people get so angry about cats being allowed to roam free - it's a fair point, dogs aren't allowed to, so why cats? I don't think it's in any way realistic that cats will be banned from the outside, it's just not going to happen.

    So for all cat owners (I am one too but my moggy lives indoors), they cause massive problems for so much wildlife - small mammals, birds, frogs, slow worms etc etc - and so much of this could be avoided with careful and responsible ownership. Just because your cat hasn't brought any prey back to your house does not mean they don't catch it, and I think it's quite naive to believe that. Whether or not you've seen it, it's safe to assume that almost every cat will kill something if it has the cance...

  • Comment number 89.

    Domesticated cats hunt for entertainment and cruelly maul their catch to death. Hunting for food is not on their agenda as much more appealing food is to be found at home. Birds of prey hunt to feed themselves and their young and are much rarer than your common cat. It's about time cat owners realised their moggies do not have the right to roam wherever they choose, just because this is a convenient way keep a pet. Put some effort in and look after your moggies properly. We constantly see 'lost cat' posters around, an obvious risk when allowed to roam.

  • Comment number 90.

    I totally agree with Chris and WartyNewt above. 55 million bird deaths a year is a huge number and probably only covers what's actually brought home. Many cats will kill and then just dump the body when it stops moving and their fun is over, so I'm sure that figure is, as suggested, conservative.

    I don't agree with the RSPB that the birds killed are just the sick and weak - what about the entire wood warbler nest as an example? And besides, it's not the role of an introduced pet to pick off the sick and weak - that's the job of our natural predators such as magpies, sparrowhawks, foxes, etc. which instead are often wrongly seen as the bad guys.

    I realise cats aren't the only threat to our wildlife - but they're certainly not helping the situation and by following the few simple rules Chris proposes, our wildlife should reap the benefits.

  • Comment number 91.

    Totally agree with Eagle-eyed. We did our best to explain to our neighbour about their cats behaviour and ask for their help. They obviously humoured us and rudely took no notice. Hence, we had some fun of our own with a 'super-soaker', the hunter thus became the hunted and was not amused to be getting a wash when coming in our garden uninvited, and going after our blue-tits!

  • Comment number 92.

    Maybe this simple point will bring home a serious flaw in the argument of those who are minimizing the impact of cats on our wildlife.

    How many people have actually seen a cat catch its prey?

    I've actually seen far more raptors catch prey than I have cats. But conversely I have seen far more cats with prey items than I have seen raptors with prey items.

    The point I'm trying to make is that you just don't see when cats catch their prey 99.9% of the time, but it doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. I think this is why people are grossly underestimating how many times their cat and other cats catch wildlife. The Springwatch programme claimed that cats only bring 30% of their prey home. However, if you are doing a survey you can be certain of most of the prey items the cat brings home, but being it is rare to see a cat catch its prey you are likely to underestimate what it doesn't bring home.

  • Comment number 93.

    personally, I get more annoyed when i accidently step in a massive festering pile of dog crap on the pavement!! Dogs are not allowed to roam freely as they are considered a risk to humans, i.e risk of bites/attacks, horses and other large mammals are also not allowed to roam freely because of the risk to peoples property and the road collision risk..so cats do not fit into these categories as they are considered small and relatively harmless, ive never been trampled on or had half my face ripped off by a cat...wildlife in general is in decline because of the mass urbanization and over population of humans using up all the natural habitat, so stop blaming the cat...oh and also, most cats dig a small hole to do their poo in, not just offloading on the pavement like dogs.

  • Comment number 94.

    Electronic cat deterants are a good idea - but bear in mind, all they do is shift the problem not solve it.

    Most cats are opportunistic hunters they will catch whatever they come across rather than actively hunting a particular species. It's not as if they 'target' the local sparrow or blue tit population. Research shows that most declines in bird populations are usually caused by habitat change or loss, particularly on farmland, but regardless if too many birds of breeding age are taken whether by raptors or cats then the population will not be sustainable.

  • Comment number 95.

    I'm a keen birdwatcher with a wildlife friendly garden and have used a bleeper cat alarm on my cats for years very successfully but recently haven't been able to track down where to get these. Please could someone tell me? I need a new one.
    I have also taught my younger cat to drop his prey on command. Most of the time! Often these are unhurt and once he's incarcerated in his 'naughty room' with a treat to reward him for dropping his victim, the unfortunate prey is left in peace to recover in a safe place. It doesn't make up for those that haven't survived, though these are usually eaten(by the cat, not me!) but I have saved a lot of creatures this way. My cats are kept in from early to mid evening to breakfast time next day in summer and if baby birds are around, the cats are locked indoors.

  • Comment number 96.

    As Tania rightly highlights, the owner is and should always be at all times responsible for their pets behaviour, therefore it is the job of the dog owner to pick up after them when walking them in public, and if we follow the same logic, it is also the job of the cat owner to be responsible for their cat. Why should they be the exception? Except for cats that are cared for responsibly indoors, cat owners want to continue to live their lives by owning a pet which causes the least inconvenience to themselves, whilst creating disruption to others as they spend their time roaming and carrying out their activities anywhere but on their owners property. It is simply naive for cat owners to expect the general public to welcome their cats into their gardens and take responsibility for them.

  • Comment number 97.

    I was amused at Chris's comment that keeping your cat in at night is a 'simple' solution to the problem. I heard about this advice six years ago when my previous cat was still alive. She had an established routine of going out at night - and hunting. So I tried keeping her in - in a house with few interior doors to act as sound barriers, and the result was constant miaoing to go out. Eventually we settled to a routine of humans and cat sleeping until about 4 am, and then one human being pounced on and forced to get up to let her out, in order to avoid an onslaught of irritated cat sounds. When she (yes, sadly) died, we got a new kitten and have been able to train her fairly easily to come in at about 9 pm, which she still does four years on, and she stays in until we get up. Moral of the story: it is far from simple to teach an old cat new tricks. Oh, and useful tip: it's essential to provide a litter tray for overnight stays indoors.

  • Comment number 98.

    I purchased 2 of the sonic collars for my 2 cats several years ago. The were quite expensive then. However, i thought they would be a good investment. Not so!! They drove me and my cats mad! they beep each time the cat moves!! I had to remove them from my cats and throw them away- as they were going to give my cats a nervous break down. They are only suitable for very old cats- who sleep most of the time. We now use 2 big bells which we replace with new ones regularly- their noise is much nicer and does not bother my cats. They are also very cheap to replace as m cats loose their collars regularly.

  • Comment number 99.

    davmcn 84 Good for you!!!

  • Comment number 100.

    Thankfully I already do most of this re my cats - they're all neutered and I keep them in at night - bit reluctant to put collars on them though these days. Am pleased to see it wasn't a cat hating article but do appreciate the damage that can be done by cats.

 

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